Smoking can damage parts of the eye, contributing to serious conditions such as macular degeneration. Quitting smoking can reduce the risk of such conditions.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a medical condition where damage occurs to part of the retina called the macula. It often develops as a person ages, affecting central vision and often worsening over time. AMD is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in Americans aged 65 years and older.

This article will discuss how smoking affects the eyes, the link between smoking and AMD, and other risk factors for AMD. It will also discuss how to reduce the risk of AMD and the outlook for those with the condition.

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According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), people who smoke cigarettes are up to four times more likely to develop AMD than nonsmokers. The World Health Organization (WHO) adds that people who live with smokers are twice as likely to develop AMD due to secondhand smoke.

Smoking may also contribute to an earlier onset of AMD. A 2019 study of 490 people with wet AMD found that current smokers developed AMD 5.5 years earlier, on average, than people who had never smoked.

Learn more about AMD here.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that smoking may negatively affect all aspects of a person’s health, including their eye health.

Smoking can cause changes and damage to parts of the eye needed for clear vision. This can lead to serious eye issues such as cataracts, AMD, vision loss, or blindness.

Smoking may affect these parts of the eye:

  • The retina: This is the light-sensitive tissue behind the eye that receives light entering the eye. It transmits the light as chemical and electrical signals for the brain to create a visual image.
  • The macula: This is the most sensitive part of the retina responsible for clear and sharp vision.
  • The lens: This is the clear part of the eye that allows the eye to focus on objects at varying distances.

Learn more about the eyes and how they work here.

The CDC states that e-cigarettes may be beneficial as a complete substitute for smoking tobacco for people who currently smoke. However, they contain harmful substances, such as nicotine, so they are still unsafe. As e-cigarettes are a fairly recent technology, their long-term effects are unclear.

A 2021 study looked at the effects of tobacco smoke and e-cigarette vapor on the retinal tissue of mice. The results indicated that nicotine-free e-cigarette vapor did not profoundly affect the retina directly, compared with conventional cigarette smoke.

However, it did cause inflammatory reactions that were more pronounced in the retinal pigmented epithelium and choroid than in the retinal tissue. This is significant because abnormalities involving these two delicate tissues are at the root of AMD.

E-cigarette vapor with nicotine caused even worse inflammatory reactions, which may contribute to AMD development in humans.

More research is necessary to determine whether e-cigarettes are less likely to cause eye problems than regular cigarettes.

Learn more about e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking here.

While smoking is the most significant modifiable risk factor for AMD, studies have also indicated a link between AMD and other factors, such as:

  • Age: The risk of developing AMD increases with age.
  • Sex: People assigned female at birth have a higher risk of developing eye impairments or serious eye diseases such as AMD.
  • Cardiovascular diseases: Cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure may increase the risk of AMD.
  • Genetics and family history: People with a family history of AMD are at greater risk of developing the condition. Genes such as CFH and HTRA1 may play a role.

Learn more about the causes and risk factors of AMD here.

People cannot control risk factors such as age, sex, and genetics. However, lifestyle choices may help reduce the risk of developing eye conditions such as AMD. They include:

  • quitting smoking
  • exercising regularly
  • wearing sunglasses to protect the eyes from the sun
  • eating foods rich in nutrients that support eye health, including vegetables, fruits, carrots, and fish
  • taking care of cardiovascular health by monitoring blood pressure and cholesterol levels

Find five ways to quit smoking here.

According to the FDA, AMD may progress quickly or slowly depending on a person’s risk factors. Smoking cigarettes is likely to worsen AMD symptoms.

Quitting smoking can reduce the risk of AMD and other health conditions. People who smoke and have concerns about their eyesight should consult a doctor.

There is currently no cure for AMD. However, doctors may recommend treatments such as injectable medications, laser procedures, and nutritional supplements to preserve vision.

Learn more about treatments for AMD here.

People who smoke are four times more likely to develop AMD than those who do not. Exposure to secondhand smoke can also increase the risk.

Smoking can damage parts of the eye responsible for clear vision. This can lead to eye conditions such as AMD and cataracts, which cause vision loss and blindness.

E-cigarettes may pose less risk, but they contain harmful substances that may contribute to health conditions.

Quitting smoking is a good way to reduce the risk of AMD and prevent it from worsening. People may also benefit from eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and wearing sunglasses to protect the eyes from bright sunlight.

Find eye health information and resources here.